Do you know a Jade?

A student sitting in a wheel chair facing the camera.

Jade uses a wheelchair for mobility. She works hard to propel herself, demonstrating her desire to be as independent as possible. She needs a lot of help steering. She can use her hands to pick up objects placed on the tray of her wheelchair. She is also blind and has severe intellectual disabilities. During the last school year, she was introduced to a small set of symbols printed on a 3D printer. The symbols have a shape and texture that Jade is learning to associate with the intended meaning of each symbol. Her teacher incorporates the symbols into activities throughout the school day. For example, every time someone moves Jade (e.g., from one room to another, from her wheelchair to another position) the teacher puts the symbol for go in Jade’s hand and says something like, “Go. Let’s go to lunch.”

Her teacher was rushing one day and forgot to give the symbol to Jade before moving her to a different place in the room. As her chair started moving, Jade reached out and searched her wheelchair tray with her hands. She found the symbol for go, picked it up, and threw it across the room. Not the end goal, but certainly an indication of her ability to distinguish the go symbol from others and evidence of her understanding of the use of this conceptual word. Continued opportunities to practice and build her communication abilities make it possible for Jade to become more and more independent steering not only the direction of her wheelchair but also her communication exchanges with others.